How Do Companies Monitor Computer Use

It’s important for both small businesses and enterprises to adopt some type of computer monitoring to ensure that employees are working during working hours and to monitor insider threats that could compromise company assets. 

On top of that, computer monitoring is particularly important for businesses that engage with a remote worker so that there is an added form of protection against cyber attacks and time theft. 

Chances are, your business already does computer monitoring. A 2018 survey found that 50% of corporations are using some type of monitoring technique to monitor their employees, which is a 20% increase from 2015. These monitoring techniques might involve the analysis of employee email text or social media messages, looking at who employees are meeting with, gathering biometric data, and more. 

So while computer monitoring is prevalent, concerns have been raised about the overreach of computer monitoring and whether or not this violates employee privacy. 

Monitor Computer Use

If this is a concern, it’s best to first understand what computer monitoring is as well as the ways that it might affect employees. 

Ways That Companies Monitor Computer Use

Computer monitoring software is one of the easiest ways for a business or employer to monitor employee activity on a given computer or network. Since employees work on a company computer and company time, computer usage and employee behavior can be subjected to electronic surveillance.  

In order to do this, monitoring software needs to be installed on the computer that the employer wants to monitor. This can be done remotely, and remain unknown to the employee as long as the employer has administrative access to the computer. This type of installation is common with company computers and computers that use a corporate network.  

However, for the most part, employee internet monitoring applications are installed with the employees’ knowledge as the software can also function as a beneficial tool for improving productivity. 

The software is not as invasive as some believe. Here are a few of the things that the software will track:

  • Time tracking: The software might turn on once the employee clocks in for the day and begins time tracking. Time tracking can be used as an attendance software or to track the progress of tasks and projects. 
  • Apps, websites, and software most visited: The tracking software will monitor internet usage and the length of time that the user is visiting a certain app or software. This information is then provided to the employer (or IT team in charge of computer monitoring) in the form of a report. If an employee is spending too much time on a certain website and this is causing reduced productivity, management can use this information to make adjustments. If the employee is frequently navigating to a dangerous site, management will also be able to see this. The same can be said for accessed apps and software. 
  • Keylogging: Keystroke logging is not common with all types of computer monitoring, but it is a popular choice for enterprises that have a lot of employees. Keylogging will record all of the keystrokes that occur on the monitored computer so that the employer can monitor what employees are saying. Keylogging does not care what website you are on; it will record and log all of the keystrokes for a given time period and for that user. 
  • Screenshots and webcam recording: Again, these features are not common but they may be used if an employer regularly has freelance, contract, or remote workers on the payroll. In this case, the monitoring software will take regular screenshots of what is on the employees’ computer or they might film the employee through the webcam.

The features and capabilities of computer monitoring will depend on the tracking software in use and the overall reasons for monitoring. Additionally, while an employee monitoring tool may be able to track and record extensively, these features and settings can be disabled by the employer for privacy reasons. 

Other things that a computer monitoring software might track include: social media, GPS tracking, audio and video recording, data passed through a mobile device, telephone communication, electronic communication, and email and instant message communication.

Why Companies Need to Monitor Computer Use

time management

There are two main reasons why an employer might need to monitor employee computers and computers on a network: 1) for tracking employee productivity and to make sure that the employee is actually working during working hours, and 2) to monitor for insider threats or malicious insider actors. 

Another reason that businesses might use employee monitoring solutions is if they regularly use remote employees. 

Because this type of software monitors employee actions and timelines, it can also be useful for project management. Project managers are able to look at the length of time it takes to complete a task and then provide task and project estimates to clients and for billing purposes. 

Additionally, the IT team might look at computer monitoring software as a way of protecting against insider threats. Computer monitoring software that uses machine learning and User Behavior Analytics (UBA) to monitor user behaviors over time will be able to identify and flag anomalous behavior when, and if, it occurs. 

Since employee monitoring software using UBA is designed from machine learning, the software won’t be alerting the team to every suspicious activity that might be a threat. Instead, it logs this information, learns abnormal behaviors from new normal ones, and tracks these behaviors. 

Computer monitoring software provides an employer with the data that they need to determine when poor productivity is a concern or to identify suspicious activity or a negligent employee that could potentially compromise the company assets. 

Computer Monitoring and Privacy

Employee monitoring has regularly been a cause for ethical and privacy concerns. Courts in the jurisdiction of the employer usually dictate employee rights and workplace privacy and can determine when these monitoring practices step out of bounds. 

However, courts have found that the privacy expectations with regards to employee tracking are rather limited during work hours. While the legalities vary by region, employers are generally allowed to monitor the activity that occurs on the work computer or workstation as long as it is during work hours or for work purposes. 

Monitoring computer activity is acceptable because the employer owns the computer network and the terminals. If this is not the case, the employer needs to make the argument that the employee is working on company time, meaning that the monitoring program is allowed during working hours.

In physical offices, workplace monitoring is also allowed with video surveillance so the employer can be aware of everything that occurs on office grounds. 

While a lot of this data can be collected, the employer may be limited to what they can do with that data. For example, some computer monitoring software collects GPS location data and data passed through mobile devices. If the information was collected outside of working hours, or if the data was collected on a personal device like a personal computer, the use of the data may not be legal. 

While privacy concerns have definitely been an issue in the past, recent surveys suggest that employees are generally okay with being monitored so long as the company is honest about what, why, and how the monitoring is occurring. 

Being forthright also means providing employees with clear communication and guidelines on how the monitoring is conducted. Consider putting the guidelines in an employee handbook to avoid confusion. 

Using Computer Monitoring Software to Monitor Employee Activity

If your business has decided to use employee monitoring software to track employee activity, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration before the software is implemented. 

First, make sure that you are aware of the legalities around employee monitoring and employee privacy in your jurisdiction. If you are using software and that software is recording data, make sure that you know how that data is stored and who is responsible for that data. You’ll also need to address who is held liable for the decisions made based on that data. 

Second, you’ll want to address the ways that your company will use the collected data. How much power does the company have? And should companies act on the employee data in order to make decisions? 

These are important questions if you plan to use the software to increase productivity and monitor insider threats. If your company will act on employee data, this information needs to be addressed at length with your employees as it will determine their livelihood and their job success. 

Given the state of technology, determine how comfortable your organization is when using monitoring devices. If the monitoring software does not make sense for the work you do, you should really ask why you are monitoring employees in the first place. You’ll also need to be transparent with your employees, as a negative company culture might contribute to low productivity, which can cost your company thousands. 

And finally, when introducing computer monitoring into your workplace, plan to report to other team members and your employees the results. Employees will want to know, and see, the benefits to using this software. 

If a company is looking to improve productivity, is concerned about insider threats, or regularly deals with remote work, the employer might adopt a monitoring program that offers certain levels of employee surveillance. 

Typically, the monitoring solution will be in place to protect the company rather than to compromise the employee. However, employers need to be transparent with their employees about workplace surveillance in order to ensure that employee privacy is met. 

By SoftActivity Team

September 21st, 2020